Last week, I saw some of the folks who were responsible for the constructive activism that began to transform the Point in the 60s. The occasion was the launch of a memoir by ex-Pointer Kathy Dobson: With a Closed Fist: Growing Up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood (Véhicule Press). The event was held at St. Columba House, a community support facility run by the United Church of Canada. Reverend Patricia Lisson, the director, told me a bit about about Saint Columba’s long history, its current programs, and invited me to lunch which, if I recall correctly, costs $1.75. Hard to beat that, and I may need to take advantage of it after paying to have a few beams put in on the ground floor.
It was Kathy Dobson’s evening. She didn’t read from her book, but she did tell the story of her mother’s activism and personal growth after a group of McGill activists descended on the Point in the 60s. It sounded as though the first response of working-class Pointers was to feel that they had been invaded by hippies. In fact, that probably was a good appraisal of the situation. Somehow, they found a way to work together, though, and they established a medical clinic that became a model for the entire country. Long-time Pointers laughed and reminisced with the McGill activists, now tweedy and grey, who helped energize the community over 40 years ago.
At one point in her talk, Dobson acknowledged that many other people in the room would have their own stories about “growing up in Canada’s toughest neighbourhood.” That produced an immediate chorus of “Oh, yeah!”s. During the crackers, brie, and wine part of the evening, I heard one story: “I was trying to get into the old man’s liquor cabinet, so I snuck downstairs in the middle of the night and got down his bottle of rye. I wasn’t about to turn on the light, so I fumbled around and found a water glass that I filled in the dark. Then I heard the old man holler ‘What the hell’s going on down there?!’ When I tried to swallow the rye quick, I felt something moving around in my mouth. I didn’t want to spit out the rye, so I reached in and pulled out the biggest goddam cockroach you ever saw in your life.”
Maya Assouad, Vèhicule Press’s publicist, told me she had expected that there might be some noisy reactions to Dobson’s book by people who felt that “Canada’s toughest neighbourhood” misrepresented our warm and fuzzy side. Maya, I’m sure, was at least a little disappointed that the evening was so, well, warm and fuzzy.
Perhaps the closest thing to a confrontation occurred between Rev. Lisson and me. She is a forthright and remarkably genial person, the kind who redeems religion for secular sorts like me. She told me about Saint Columba House projects involving videography and youth. Can you see the door yawning before me? I wasn’t asked to help, or to participate in any of Saint Columba’s efforts, but what else can you do when someone invites you to lunch? Canada’s toughest neighbourhood, indeed.